How We Leap into Chaos When We Spell the Way We Speak

Happy Leap Day!Shrf's cawfee
I was talking with a colleague recently about how people misspell words. One that always gets me is when people write “use” when they mean “used.” For example, she use to go to school with me.

Amanda pointed out people make that type of mistake because they are writing words the way they hear them. This is just like using “could of” and “would of” instead of “could have” or “could’ve” and “would have” or “would’ve.”

Part of the problem is folks don’t read enough anymore to recognize the difference (and good, correct writing is getting harder to come by). Part of the problem is there are regional differences in the U.S. (and anywhere else, for that matter) that affect what we say and how we pronounce things.

For instance, my mother-in-law would say, “I’m going down cellar.” She would leave out the article “the” all the time. (It was always “cellar,” never “basement,” too.)

One phrase I had to get used to when I moved to the South was “put it up” instead of “put it away.”

My mother, a bit of a stickler for good grammar, was not immune. She would not turn a light on or off; she would “open” the light or “close” it.

Anyone hearing me talk about Long Island would immediately recognize by my hard pronunciation of the “ng” that I grew up in the New York metropolitan area. (I wonder what I would put at the end of “long” if I was spelling it as I speak it, a “k”?) My son-in-law laughs at me when I say coffee (cawfee) or sheriff (shrf). Sigh.

Sometimes my many years spent living in Central New York will pop up when I find the diphthong ou coming out as “oo” instead of “ow”: He was aboot to jump off the cliff.

One thing that sets off my grammar radar is when people mispronounce “suite.” People often pronounce it like suit instead of sweet. When people say, “I bought a new living room suite [pronounced suit],” I always get this vision of an easy chair in pinstripes and double rows of buttons.

Amanda cautions her students that, while differences in pronunciation are acceptable when speaking, they shouldn’t be made when writing.

Can you imagine the chaos if everyone wrote exactly the way they spoke?